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6.6 - Subterranea

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Reviewed By: thisoldcanReview Date: 6/20/17 1:49 am
1 out of 3 found this review helpful.

In Subterranea, the latest Fourth Doctor Adventures entry, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) land the TARDIS underground. Very quickly, the TARDIS is swallowed up by a mining crew of mole-like creatures, and lost underground. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana find themselves in a trap, as an ancient race of robotic creatures attempts to win an ages old war with one final strike. The Doctor and Romana will put themselves in mortal danger, as the Silex (John Banks) attack. Subterranea is a strong story from an already solid series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Featuring two solid performances by stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, the story also features an excellent guest performance by Matthew Cottle, and a strong guest cast. Jonathan Morris' script does a great job delivering a strong story, though the opening half of the story is a little weak up until the major twist reveal, and it contains strong banter throughout for all characters. It was a solid little story in what's shaping up to be one of the better series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward reprise their respective roles as the Fourth Doctor and Romana II. Baker, as always, sounds a little older, but has lost none of the charm he had on the TV series. Age has mellowed him out a bit, and he's less prone to interrupting his co-star (given, they do record separately), and the stories are all the better for it. I've always admired how Baker, who declined to return to the role for many years, jumped back into the role, sounding a bit older, but acting like he never left. For many fans, he was Doctor Who, the definite article, and hearing his performances as the Doctor, you can't help but agree. The highlight of Baker's performance continues to be his excellent back-and-forth with Lalla Ward, as he's able to wring humor out of their interactions at every point. Ward was enjoyable enough throughout the story as well, though the persistent problems with her sounding more like Gallifrey Romana, rather than Season 17-18 Romana made her performance a little less enjoyable. Still, Ward always seems to have fun in the role, enjoying her exasperated sighs towards the Doctor. One of the things I like most about Romana's performance is her ability to take control of the scene with a simple exasperated line; I think Ward is a bit underrated as a comedic actor, as she's able to make the scenes with Tom work so well, with a little exasperated, snappy line thrown out to him. The scene where she asks if the Doctor has a plan towards the end works so well partly because of Ward.

The guest cast for this story is a rather strong group of actors this time around; most of the time, the guest cast can't compete with the likes of Tom Baker, but here, every main member stands out on their own, making this release one of the most well-cast stories in a while for the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Matthew Cottle and Abigail McKern star as husband and wife Maxwell and Lucretia Bell. Both actors played a larger part in the second half of the story, but Cottle especially stood out with a quieter, understated performance. His final moments in this story, simply wanting to reunite with his wife in death, are a powerful moment and a fine bit of acting from Cottle. McKern tends towards the dramatic at times in the second half, but nonetheless comes across as an effective, dangerous villain. Robbie Stevens and Jane Slavin also star primarily as Jelicho Wigg and Arabella Wagstaff. Stevens and Slavin star mostly in the first half of the story, and take on a supporting role in the second, but both do a strong job nonetheless. Slavin plays the role of companion du jour well, giving a fun, banter-heavy performance with Baker in the first half of the story. Likewise, Stevens plays Jelicho well, with an enjoyable rapport with the Doctor and Romana throughout the story, and a strong chemistry with Slavin as well.

Jonathan Morris' writing for this story was an enjoyable affair. The plot itself was just a tad dull to start, but once the second half got started, the story improved quite a bit. Beyond the story itself, Morris' dialogue was an enjoyable affair, as he was able to really capture the chemistry between the Doctor and Romana, and ably portray how the Fourth Doctor would interact with people at large. Morris' story was an overall enjoyable affair; I found that the parts leading up to Lucretia's betrayal dragged a little bit, as the story came across as just another simple Fourth Doctor story. However, with the reveal that Lucretia was working for the Silex, I felt that this story was elevated quite a bit, not least of all because of the simple, but powerful relationship Morris gave to Maxwell and Lucretia. It's a one-sided relationship, but the writing that Morris did for Maxwell is strong, giving him a sense of loss and a desire to sacrifice himself to be with the love of his life. I felt that overall, the focus on the characters themselves, generally one of Morris' strong points, is where the story felt to be of a higher quality. Hand in hand with that is Morris' excellent work with dialogue, as he was able to give the Doctor and Romana, and everyone else, life in his story. I particularly loved the back-and-forth between the Doctor and Romana throughout the story.

The last thing I'd like to mention for this story is the excellent design of the Silex by cover artist Anthony Lamb. The Silex are just plain creepy here, recalling shades of Songbird from Bioshock: Infinite and Sauron. It's an extremely creepy design for this clockwork, steam engine-like former mole-like alien, and Lamb visualizes it and brings it to life extremely well. Beyond that, I love the design of the mole-like alien species that Lamb made on the cover; the one on the cover looks like Billy Idol crossed with a mole, and the effect is really quite interesting. This isn't what I visualized for the characters at all in this story, but nonetheless, it's an effective, interesting design for these aliens.

Overall, Subterranea was a rock solid (forgive the pun) story about an elaborate trap being laid on an underground mining crew. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were both solid as the Doctor and Romana respectively, while cast members like Matthew Cottle and Jane Slavin stood out with strong performances for strong characters. Jonathan Morris' script was a strong affair; after a somewhat dull first half, the story kicks into high gear and ends on a surprisingly emotional note for Maxwell Bell. Likewise, Morris did a great job writing the relationships between characters, especially Maxwell and Lucretia, and the Doctor and Romana. All these elements combined made for an extremely enjoyable story from the Fourth Doctor Adventures, the best of this series so far, in my opinion.